Tree Care

Florida supports more tree species than any other state in the continental United States. Florida is strategically positioned to share the flora of both the tropical and temperate climatic zones. An extensive list of introduced and naturalized species also expands Florida’s tree flora. Florida tree flora becomes even more unique given the many plants of the southern peninsula and Florida Keys which are the northernmost representatives of a typically tropical flora, and some central and north Florida specialties which are found nowhere else in the country.

Understanding how to care for Florida trees and shrubs can be a challenge – to say the least. Taking a proactive approach to tree and shrub care can save you money and keep your growing floral assets from becoming liabilities. The following information can help you get started in caring for your trees and shrubs and meet your landscaping needs.

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Caring for Trees & Shrubs

proactive approach to keeping natural assets from becoming liabilties
By Cathy Walker

Trees may be one of the few elements of your facility that appreciates in value with age. But without proper care, trees and shrubbery actually can become a liability.

A cost-effective management program for trees and shrubs involves accurate analysis and problem diagnosis; proper cultural practices; and implementation of protection programs.

Problem Diagnosis

Be Proactive

Taking a proactive — rather than reactive — approach to tree and shrub care will save money in the long run and keep those growing assets from becoming liabilities. Setting up a proactive tree/shrub care proactive begins with proper analysis and problem diagnosis. You’ll need to:

Why Hire Help?

Consulting Arborists & Horticulturists

Hiring a consulting arborist or horticulturist to provide periodic inspections and make recommendations can turn out to be money well spent. Accurate plant identification and problem diagnosis is essential for effective treatment. Improper pruning or fertilizing, having a problem go unnoticed or guessing at a treatment can result in loss of valuable plant material — or, at least, wasted money in ineffective treatment. A professional arborist or horticulturist can help set up cultural programs that will keep trees and shrubs healthy and vigorous — the best defense against disease, insects or other stresses that can cause tree problems.

Proper care involves fertilizing, watering and pruning. There are no boiler-plate specifications; needs differ with each plant type, climate and other environmental conditions.

The following are general guidelines:


Fertilizing trees and shrubs — at the proper time and with the correct nutrients — is important.
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By Cathy Walker

Fertilizing trees and shrubs -- at the proper time and with the correct nutrients -- is important. New trees and shrubs may grow more rapidly and mature plants should maintain their vigor, which means they'd be less likely to be susceptible to devastating diseases like canker and insects like borers.

In "Standard for Fertilizing Shade and Ornamental Trees," the Tree Care Industry Association recommends that newly planted trees be fertilized with a product high in phosphorus to assist in root development.

Established plantings should receive an annual application of nitrogen fertilizer. Phosphorus and potassium are chemically bound in the soil and released slowly over time. These nutrients often are found in sufficient amounts in the soil, and can be added every three to five years or as soil tests indicate. Trees and shrubs planted in sandy or light soils will benefit from an annual application of potassium.

Actual fertilizer rates should be based on inspections of foliage color, previous stem or twig growth, general health of the tree and other environmental conditions like soil types, moisture and temperature.

Tree and shrub fertilization is best done in fall, when temperatures are cooler and moisture typically is more abundant. In the north, apply fertilizer after the first killing frost but before the ground freezes and root activity stops.

Spring also is a good time to fertilize: Trees and shrubs are (or soon will be) growing. But avoid fertilization between mid-July and September. Treatments for specific nutrient deficiency problems may be an exception.

Tree and shrub fertilizer is available in granular form, slow-release tablets or briquettes and liquid. Granular fertilizers can be applied over the surface of the soil or lawn under the tree's canopy. To avoid burning the lawn, drill holes into the ground under the tree and fill them with granular fertilizer or the slow-release packets or briquettes.

The advantages of the slow release packets or briquettes? They're easy to handle and apply, and they can supply nutrients for up to three years. Liquid fertilizers can be injected into the soil under pressure. Foliar feeding and trunk injections should be reserved for treating specific nutrient deficiencies, mainly iron and manganese.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of fertilization method. Ask your consulting arborist for recommendations.


Watering requirements for trees and shrubs depends on several factors, including plant species and age, soil conditions, and weather.
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By Cathy Walker

Watering requirements for trees and shrubs depends on several factors, including plant species and age, soil conditions, and weather.

Newly planted trees and shrubs are more dependent on supplemental watering. At planting time, watering is a must; be sure to water again every seven to 10 days during the first growing season, if rainfall is inadequate. When watering, make sure the root ball is thoroughly soaked. A light sprinkling over the top of the ground usually won't be enough to get moisture down to the roots. Check the moisture in the root ball before watering again.

Meanwhile, overwatering kills as many new plantings as lack of water, especially in heavy, compacted clay soils. In sandy soils, you'll need to water more frequently. It usually takes two to three years for a newly planted tree to become established. With bare root plants and larger trees, it may take longer to regenerate the roots lost during the transplanting process.

Established trees and shrubs usually can thrive with normal rainfall; in drought conditions, however, supplemental watering is necessary to maintain health and vigor. Remember: The larger, established trees are the most valuable, and it makes sense to take care your most valuable assets.

Key Watering Points:

  • Check the soil moisture at various depths before watering.
  • Thoroughly soak the entire root zone, not just the tree base -- you'll find most of the feeder roots that absorb moisture at tree canopy's outer edge.
  • Water slowly and deeply to wet the entire root zone. In most cases, water should penetrate at least eight inches. If you apply water too quickly, much of it will run off and may erode the soil surface.
  • Clay soil is difficult to wet and slow to dry. You won't need to water as often, but you'll need more of it when you do water. Sandy soil absorbs water quickly, but it also dries more rapidly, so you'll need to water more often.


Proper pruning of trees and shrubs is necessary to maintain health and vigor of plant material; it’s also a way to control size and shape.
Keep Reading


By Cathy Walker

Proper pruning of trees and shrubs is necessary to maintain health and vigor of plant material; it's also a way to control size and shape. Pruning should be an annual activity. Before pruning, note plants' growing habits. Plants respond differently to pruning at various times of year, and to various degrees of pruning.

At a minimum, you'll need to remove dead wood and damaged branches as soon as possible. Diseased wood, crossing branches, suckers and water sprouts (succulent shoots that arise from the tree base or from the middle of a branch and grow straight up into a tree, common on crabapples and hawthorns) also should be removed annually. Weak crotch angles and double leaders should be removed from young shade trees.

Pruning during the dormant season is beneficial because there's less stress put on the plant, branches and structure are easily seen, results are less noticeable and usually the grounds crew is less busy.

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Cathy Walker is a consultant with Landscape Solutions, Roanoke, Ill., and a contributing editor to Maintenance Solutions.

plant Protection

Protecting plants for damaging insects and diseases should be a part of your annual management program. Blanket spraying of insecticides and fungicides is not an economical or ecological solution. Adopting an integrated pest management (IPM) program includes regular monitoring of plants and environmental conditions for insect infestations and conditions optimal for infectious diseases to proliferate. Treatment becomes an issue if a pest is damaging (or has the potential to damage) the plants. Always use the least toxic, most effective product.

Trees and shrubs are some of your facility’s most valuable assets. Unlike the carpet or computer terminals, their value increases with age. Trees actually reach a point where they become invaluable and cannot be replaced at any price. It makes sense to make their care a priority. Start with accurate analysis and problem diagnosis, follow the proper guidelines for cultural care and protect the trees and shrubs from potential damage.

Tree Health Care Management

Timber Tree Company offers Tree Health Care Mangement including injection treatments using Arborjet.

Tree injections involve direct application of nutrition, fungicide or insecticide (such as treatment for the spiral white fly) into the trunk of an affected tree. The benefits of injection over spraying or soil application are immediate uptake of formula, quick healing, no impact to the applicator or environment and cost-efficiency.